Saturday, September 15, 2018

Massacre of Innocents Plants Seeds of Hope and Faith

Tomorrow we leave for Malvern in the UK where on Monday a crowd of folk who have worked as missionaries in Zimbabwe will meet with leaders of the Elim Churches in that country. Present also at Elim's International Centre will be family members of the 9 Elim missionaries and 4 of their children who were killed in the Vumba in July 1978. This will be the first time that those bereaved family members will come together since the dreadful events of 40 years ago, and they deserve our prayers and support as their memories will be stirred.

When we worked in Mutare, the nearest city to the Vumba, we planted a congregation in a building that had been purchased at the time as the Elim Memorial Church. That church has since been renovated to a high standard and has become a real focus for the Elim Church's work in that area. At the time of our being there Elim had around a dozen churches in the country, together with schools and a hospital. Now there are over 65 congregations all over Zimbabwe and the work is thriving. Stephen Griffith's excellent book The Axe and the Tree tells the story of all that led up to the massacre of 40 years ago and the great suffering and faith of the national church and its leaders at that time. I recommend it.
Peter & Sandra McCann, Philip & Joy died in the Vumba

You may wonder what real relevance a memorial garden might have for today's generation of trainee pastors and missions workers. I did so too, but remember that one of my responsibilities was to keep an eye on the mass grave of those who died in the Vumba. Once a year, on the occasion of the graduation of the young men we were training as evangelists in what was known as Project Timothy, they would gather with me around the grave. I would explain to the young men that they were the fruit of the sacrifices these people had made, and then pray for them that, as they went out two by two into the community, they would remember the example of these friends of ours who paid the ultimate price. Each year it was common for tears to be shed and the impact upon the young evangelists was clear to be seen. So I pray that as young Bible students take time to wander in the memorial garden they will think about the example of those who have gone before them and perhaps come to a new understanding of, and a new commitment to, their own calling.

"They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated— the world was not worthy of them...

These were all commended for their faith" (Hebrews 11:38-39)

Saturday, September 08, 2018

First Things First

An ancient king of Israel once prayed that God would grant to him an undivided heart. He must have felt torn by the many responsibilities of state and the huge family of which he was the head. But King David reasoned that at the heart of the human condition lies the condition of the human heart. He wanted his heart to be undivided, so that in everything he did his faith and commitment to God would be at the forefront of his decision-making.

Recently, I have been thinking so much about the changes that have come about in the Western church of which I am a part. I know the danger of looking backwards where it seems that everything was once so much shinier than it is now, but I suppose that is one of the privileges of growing older. When I first became a Christian in my mid-teens I was a mad keen shootist. My marksmanship took me to the very peak of the sport, competing for Great Britain in Canada and annually at Bisley, the home of international shooting. I was a finalist in the prestigious Queen's prize, and fired competitive air rifles, smallbore and fullbore rifles virtually every day of the week, and I loved it. I loved the competitiveness, the company and most of all the buzz of winning. But once I began to grow in my understanding of what the Christian life would mean for me I had no alternative but to hang up my weapons.

We are what we aim at!
Despite the fact that there were real opportunities to witness for Christ in my sport I felt that I was two timing him and compromising my availability to God. Looking back today I think that I was too hasty in completely turning away from something at which I was obviously very gifted, but my decision was based on my commitment to the gospel. I joined with other young men in a gospel music band called Soul Enterprise which did pretty much what was written on the tin. My life was full with church meetings, prayer groups, band practices, outreach and gigs. I don't regret any of that, and feel that my life was enriched by what I let go.

In this day and age where leisure is king and being a Christian is wrongly presumed to be a lifestyle choice please join me in praying for young believers everywhere, but especially in the West, that we might all ask God to give us an undivided heart. You will know what divides your heart as I know mine, and I pray that these few words may just help you to take a look at your own commitment and ask if anything less than worthy stands in the way of your availability to God.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Pastors are People too.

News has come out of the US this week of the tragic suicide of a pastor, leaving his young wife and three sons devastated. Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California died last Saturday. He had fought a long battle with depression and anxiety, especially since the death of his father from leukaemia in 2015. But he was far from being a typically depressed person (whatever that means!). He led a vibrant, modern, growing congregation and shone in his dynamic preaching ministry in particular. He was loved by his people and his family and will be greatly missed.

I have also just finished reading Jack Deere's latest book and autobiography Even in our Darkness in which this outwardly successful author, Bible School Professor, pastor and conference speaker tells of his life-long battle with his own inner self, damaged by his upbringing. The tragedy of his son's suicide, his wife's alcoholism and his own many internal issues and relationship problems makes hard reading. It has shown me, though, that we should not put pastors and church leaders onto pedestals of presumed perfection. Flesh and blood like us they are. Cut them and they bleed. Treat them harshly, rudely or with disdain and they can find themselves under dark clouds of despair, self-doubt and depression. Yes they have to learn to deal with that, but let's not add to their pressures or pain by petty church politics or religious phoney baloney about 'men and women of God' being different to the rest of us.

This sad story comes against the back-cloth of a report by the Samaritans that shows that suicides among men under 50 are a big problem in the UK, as they are in Guernsey. Their report reads: "Although there has been an overall downward trend in suicide rates over the past decade, the statistics are clear – in terms of age, gender and socio-economic status, the group most at risk of suicide are men, in the lowest social class, in their mid-years. Men are three times more likely than women to end their own lives." This is something that needs serious action by all social agencies, including the church. Maybe the tragic events in California's Inland Hills church will increase our concern about this issue, and also make us pray for our pastors more urgently, and love them more fully.